“No, not like that! You’re not supposed to do it all retarded. Don’t act like a bunch of retards.”
Elora’s little sister, Cami, has special needs. Elora is particularly sensitive to the R-Word because of that, but hearing it come from the mouth of a teacher shook her up pretty bad. She told Erin and me that she hears the word on the playground all time. It bothers her, but they’re kids and kids aren’t known for the senstivity. But a teacher? How does that happen?
Here’s thing about the R-Word: getting mad about it doesn’t do any good. Most people who use it don’t understand the damage the word causes, so gently informing is always the better response. We didn’t want to call up the school and demand action be taken against the teacher or yell at the Principal. That wouldn’t do anything to actually fix the problem. And there was a problem. A big, school-wide one.
We wrote an email to the Principal instead, expressing our distress, but also our interest in doing whatever we could to help raise awareness at the school. In an impressive display of leadership, Principal Yang didn’t just send back apologies, but asked to meet with Erin to talk about what Miramonte Elementary could do to help their students and teachers be a bit more sensitive towards those with disabilities.
A few months later, on March 18, 3013 (Cami’s birthday, coincidentally), Miramonte held a Spread the Word to End the Word assembly. It was incredible. Many students came up to read their pledges and some high schoolers led everyone in a chant to SPREAD THE WORD/END THE WORD.
I regret I didn’t record the whole thing, but here’s the featured speakers, Elora and Erin, talking about Cami and what’s so bad using about the R-Word–even when you’re not referring to a person directly.
I think they did an incredible job. Many of Elora’s classmates came up to her afterwards and pledged to stop using the R-Word now that they knew better. If you’d like to take the pledge, please check out the End the Word site right here.